“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”― George Orwell
For a while now, I have wanted to go on a writing course with a purpose other than to provide a stimuli for my own work. Of course, I want that too: – expand the repo-tire of my work, write with a different voice, look at different subject matter. All these things are important to a writer. However, I wanted a course, which could offer something other than the context of generating writing. So when the poet, Tammy Yoeloff, emailed to say that she was running a 6 week poetry course based around the exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, called ‘History is Now’, I knew this was the perfect space to explore concepts and generate a dialogue with art in a way which I haven’t been able to for a while: How do I look at installation? how do I respond to the narrative of the objects and their stories. The subject matter also engaged me; critically, constructively, poetically:- History is Now.
What is History? A “Certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation” as Julian Barnes writes in his eleventh novel, The Sense of an Ending. I felt that the exhibition would raise questions with our sensibilities, our own relationship with the histories we make for ourselves, our perceptions, positions and responsibilities as people in the wider context of history.
The title of the show, ‘History is Now’ is a line taken from the poem ‘Little Giddings, the last of T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets. I like the play on the fact that History is Now, indeed we are creating it as we speak it, more dangerously we often keep recreating it (I am thinking of politics, wars and often love) and live in its chaos and patterns, novelist, Chuck Palahniuk in Survivor says:
“There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns. Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns. If you watch close, history does nothing but repeat itself. What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized. What we call random is just patterns we can’t decipher. What we can’t understand we call nonsense. What we can’t read we call gibberish. There is no free will. There are no variables.”
This exhibition explores particular periods of British cultural and social history. Seven British artists, were given their own sections of the gallery to curate, each responding and reflecting to certain periods of history: the cold war, protest movements, BSE, post Thatcherite society. In the first week, we looked at Simon’s Fujiwara installation of objects: the democracy of them as they were placed next to each other, carefully, deliberately to tell a wider story of the post Thatcherite society we lived in. And the story Fujiwara was introducing to his audience was largely our own relationship with mass production/ consumerism, our own dialogue with wealth, class and disposal. I found his mindful and scrupulous positioning of objects, some personal, some borrowed from the Arts Councils’ collections tell a poignant anecdote of modern society.
This poem was inspired by the art work of Gavin Turk, called Garbage Bags which Simon Fujiwara had as one of his objects in his space. This is a first draft only.
after Gavin Turk
My garbage slides down the side
of my house – growing with waste
against the brick – materials,
possessions – unwantedness.
Slouched, coal black bodies willowing
under a night’s eye, scanning the comings
and goings of sleep, the unhurried nocturnal
animal beyond and the little girl miles
away on a snow capped rubbish tip –
a mountain of grey white metal,
picking her way through the wild flowers
that stretch these margins of hardware
deposit, mineral, to find a broken
photo frame, a picture of a family
looking ahead – beyond her gaze
or the scribbled paleness of sky
whitening – to somewhere colder still.